About Bonga and Angola

I don't know the lyrics to "Mona Ki Ngi Xica" - it's sung in Kimbundu - but the emotion needs no translation: the plaintive guitars, the throaty hum, Bonga's husky cries, all speak anguished accusation. In 1974, a coup in Portugal brought down the colonial government; in 1975, a newly independent Angola imploded into a 27-year civil war that left the country in ruins. For many Africans, especially Bonga's fellow exiles in Europe, Angola 72 and the follow-up, Angola 74, became landmarks in time, music made in an explosive moment and instantly imbued with history (see Marvin Gaye, op cit).

I didn't have access to that history or those memories when I first heard the song, but it haunted me. Little by little, I learned new stories - about the song, about Bonga, about Angola.

Maybe eight years after that first hearing, another friend who got the tape I made picked up a copy of Angola 72 on a trip to San Francisco. Hearing Bonga then called up a lost moment in my own history: a rough, disheveled time when it was easy and necessary to imagine a radically different life-to-come. I grew to love another song on the album, "Muimbo Ua Sabalu," about which I can say nothing except, listen.

Hearing Bonga changed my life. It wasn't a conversion experience; I just learned something. And because I had some time on my hands, and because I bothered, the Bonga spread. I even got a little of the Bonga back. Nice, huh?

But thinking about Angola 72 makes me revise my lonely thesis. Maybe lonely isn't quite right. Maybe what I'm really talking about is longing - for home, for a time long past, for a better tomorrow - whatever endlessly deferred dream traps you, arms outstretched, in the infinite present. It's longing that opens the door. It's the door left open, waiting for someone to come home. Lower the arms, shut the door, miss the chance? No, I'm stuck with the longing, I guess. What are you gonna do?